Food Matters: Another Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, passed
The sprawling Green of the Snowmass Club smelled of freshly mown grass and hamburger smoke. Guests in crisp white pants, jewel-toned dresses, and checkered shirts packed the patio of Black Saddle Bar & Grill, sipping welcome cocktails and air-kissing each other beneath a twilight sky. Some slurped oysters; others danced with inebriated abandon. Though only Wednesday, excitement for the first big weekend of summer was in full swing.
A longtime local swanned over to greet me, her flowy blouse fluttering in a breeze created by outstretched arms. I couldn’t help but squeal when I noticed her wide, toothy grin.
“Oh my god, are you so excited or what?!” she gushed, hugging me quick. “This is, like, your biggest weekend!”
I inhaled. Then I channeled Bill Murray and let loose a dry “hah” with a sly eyebrow shimmy.
“Nope! I’m getting outta here!” I exclaimed, nearly matching her breathless enthusiasm. “Flying to Sonoma to spend the weekend with a friend instead,” I replied. Gotta nourish my spirit.
Yes, at sun-up last Friday during the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, I did the unthinkable as a food writer: I hopped on a plane and flew out of town like a bat out of hell.
I just couldn’t face it this year. Having returned one week prior from offseason travels in very foreign lands spanning nearly three weeks, I imagined the epic, temple-crushing hangover on Monday morning. I remembered parched skin and baggy eyes, achy joints and bloated thighs. Blisters. Broken sunglasses. Piles of schwag, fistfuls of business cards, and small notebooks filled with crinkled pages ending in loopy, unintelligible scribbles.
Though my heart craved a chill escape, suddenly my mind wondered whether I might miss out. Still, I know I’m not the only one who feels one giant leap closer to developing gout the day following Father’s Day.
Incidentally, my dad weighed in via email: Couldn’t I just take it easy? “And if anyone comments just say ‘I’m on a real health binge’ and feeling great,” he wrote. “They’ll think to themselves, ‘I wish I was doing that.’”
Clearly my pops has never attended the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.
I began to think the same of friends who know better, yet responded, “Just don’t drink as much.”
This was invariably followed by an abrupt guffaw, because, Yeah, as if that’s even possible. Any notion of holding back during the buzzy summer festival that draws thousands of imbibers to our mountain paradise leaps out the window the instant a cocktail hits the lips. There are too many sips to sip! Too many bites to pop! Too many people to air kiss! Too much temptation to send it skyward, as we always absolutely must.
I began to question whether my mixed feelings had anything to do with a sense of abandoning journalistic duty at all. Maybe instead they’re a personal conflict with Aspen’s culture of extreme. If we’re not jumping in headfirst and going all the way, are we self-branding as slackers? Perhaps it’s better to bow out entirely than stay on track and pump the brakes along the way, because that’s a surefire way to get caught in the flow and abandon the notion of a slow ride.
To be clear as Champagne: I’m not anti-Food & Wine Classic. The event is a riot, from any side of the table. I’ve prepped plates in the tents with pros. I’ve tasted food from top chefs and sipped alongside master somms. I’ve interviewed celebrities, photographed partygoers, and have recapped events such as Heritage Fire for this very column. I thrill on the reunion of visitors — chefs, producers and food fanatics united in a single passion, sharing what tools or tricks or new ingredients have developed in the past 12 months — yet this time the whole debacle felt absurdly gluttonous.
So I made a last-minute decision to opt out. My physical health and mental wellness had spoken, and I realized it would be OK. I’m cool skipping one Food & Wine every seven years.
I found faith in my decision on Thursday evening, when everyone got plastered. I don’t mean drunk — not that rosé didn’t flow freely and tequila shots appeared magically like a desert oasis mirage. I’m talking about a souvenir hand-casting event hosted by The Edinburgh Casting Studio, a Scotland-based company brought to town by longtime Aspen pals. I arrived a tad too late and missed sign-up on Casa Tua’s patio; the chance to dip hands in a plaster slurry and create a culinary-themed keepsake was gobbled up fast.
Sometimes missing an opportunity doesn’t spell missing out entirely. My friend in charge cheerily informed me that she’d arrange additional sculpting sessions for folks unable to participate that evening. What’s more, the DIY kit will launch on Amazon in coming weeks.
Then that particular event reinforced a different notion: Aspen’s social sphere has a not-so-sneaky way of snowballing bad behavior. Despite our best intentions, Aspen’s social sphere has a not-so-sneaky way of snowballing bad behavior. Despite aiming to catch an early plane first thing the next day, I ended up on an all-too-predictable hopscotch with my posse, landing us at the Little Nell long past midnight. I mean, if I was available on the eve of Food & Wine’s official kickoff, I might as well dip in my toe and say farewell, old friend, right?
In the morning I woke up in my eyeliner (yet again) and nearly missed the flight. I felt exactly like what I’d been yearning to avoid: A hot mess with a parched tongue. As soon as I landed in NorCal, I breathed sweet relief. I felt free from obligation and temptation to try to do it all. I would skip the shitshow, yet I wouldn’t miss a thing.
Still, I won’t forget the shock of surprise I felt last Wednesday after I stated my intention to escape the whole shebang.
“What!?” the woman shouted in response, as if she had trouble hearing me from across a crowded concert. Then she leaned in to whisper a secret: “Don’t tell anyone, but, uh, we’re doing that, too.”
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Many locations on Basalt Mountain were barren as recently as two months ago. However, nutrients unlocked during the Lake Christine Fire and a wet winter have sparked a remarkable recovery. Aspen Center for Environmental Studies is leading fire ecology tours to discuss the changes.